Dylan Kidd, Hollywood Dirt and a Shovel

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Dylan Kidd would like to assure everyone that he is not Roger Swanson.

"(The film) is not autobiographical," Kidd insists.

Good thing, because Roger, the main character in Kidd's award-winning debut feature, "Roger Dodger," which he both wrote and directed, is not exactly the kind of guy you want to emulate.

"He's kind of based on a friend in college," Kidd says. "A certain type of person: over-educated, hyper-verbal, who tries to seduce women by tearing them down."

Ugh. Why make a movie about someone like that?

Kidd expects audiences to view it as "a cautionary tale" - as well as "a great date movie" - but for him it was also a writing exercise.

"I'd written a couple other (screenplays) that were too large in scope," Kidd says. "There was no way I was going to get funding."

"Roger Dodger," on the other hand, has pretty much just two characters, and is mostly-dialogue based.

"Dialogue was always a strong point (for me)," Kidd says. "I'm a total eavesdropper. So I'm not just writing, I'm trying to find a rhythm. Also, I shot a lot with two cameras, which allows the actors (dialogue) to overlap. I wanted to make it feel like the audience is overhearing a conversation - voyeurism."

Despite its lack of explosions and other budget-breakers, it was still a struggle for Kidd, as a first-time filmmaker, to get his script noticed - and thus funded.

"The industry is not set up to help people," Kidd says, just a touch of bitterness creeping into his voice. "There's a firewall of agents and managers. I beat my head against the wall for six months."

Then, in July of 2001, a miracle happened.

"I was sitting in a coffee shop and Campbell Scott walked in," Kidd says, still sounding slightly awed.

Kidd had taken to carrying his script everywhere he went in his home city of New York so that when he occasionally ran into a celebrity, he could offer it to them. Most declined, pointing him in the direction of their agents. To Kidd's surprise, Scott accepted the script. He also liked it, and with his help, Kidd was able to start shooting three months later, with Scott in the title role.

"Casting is key," Kidd says. "Put Ray Liotta in (Scott's) role and it's a different movie. (The film) would die if people thought that Roger was a threatening character. You have to take responsibility for what you write; I was careful that there were no clues that (Roger) is cool."

Kidd considers Roger to be "compelling to watch in the way that watching a car wreck is compelling. I want people to be surprised, to not know how it ends."

Although Kidd talks about his movie like it's still a screenplay - he references different points in the film as being X-many pages in - he considers himself to be primarily a director: "If I had to choose, I'd rather direct," he says. Yet Kidd's greatest challenges came as a director, not as a writer.

One scene in "Roger Dodger" takes place in an especially seedy-looking brothel - the farthest thing from typical Hollywood "Pretty Woman" prostitution.

"We used an actual sex club," Kidd says. "We got in there at 5 a.m., after they closed. The crew didn't want to go it; we had to scrub it out. I feel like I dropped the ball a little - I was so skeeved out. That was the hardest (thing as a director): the moments when everyone wants to leave and you have to say, 'No, we need to stay.' I had to remind myself that the audience wouldn't be able to smell the way it smelled."

Kidd's other directorial challenge was the budget - or rather, the lack of one.

"Everything we did was based on how we want the audience to feel chasing Roger around," Kidd says. "Never getting as good a look as they'd like - it makes up for the fact that we had no money for art direction."

Some of Kidd's other choices were more stylistic.

"Lots of foreground feels like how I see life," he says. As for some of the odder shots where objects appear to pass through the character's bodies..."The environment bleeds into who they are," Kidd explains. All right then.

After spending "a lot of the '90s completely broke," Kidd is now feeling "spoiled" thanks to the success of "Roger Dodger."

"This film is so weirdly blessed," Kidd says. "We realized we'd be done right when the (first annual) Tribeca Film Festival would happen." Kidd thought "Roger Dodger would be ideal to submit because it is "such a New York film. But I had no idea huge the festival would be.

"The jury for our section was full of great people," Kidd continues. "Frances McDormand, Kevin Spacey...then the next day the phone rang, saying that we won something."

Not just something: the award for Best Narrative Feature. Spacey presented Kidd with the statue. "I was so nervous that I left it on stage and still don't have it," he says.

So yes, Dylan Kidd considers himself spoiled. "I feel like I've used enough good Karma for three lifetimes," he says. "But all I want to do is make another movie."


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